I’m not totally sure of Looking yet, despite my enthusiasm after the premiere episode. I feel like this is a show everyone wants to be enthusiastic about but is waiting for confirmation of quality on. The idea of a show about gay guys living in San Francisco is perhaps the most immediately appealing thing about it. People like boundaries being broken down for minorities, so a show that puts them front-and-center is something everybody will want to like. It was a similar thing with Girls, not to drag that comparison too far, but a show focusing almost entirely on female characters with a salty sense of humor really caught viewers off guard in a way that hooked them for the long run (through a markedly rough second season to its stabilized and enticingly ambiguous third season).
What Looking risks most is becoming a show about gay guys who have sex and live in an insular world. Mind you, it’s great not to have these characters’ sexualities questioned all the time, but I’m already worrying that San Francisco will end up portrayed as this queer paradise where all the gay people can seek love free of awkward or oppressive social consequences. I hope that’s not the case, and I do expect more of writer-director Andrew Haigh, who it turns out has more involvement than initially expected. Looking for Uncut, however, was not the episode to break the relationship box, as it turned out to be about relationships to a fault.
I mean that less as an all-out knock on the episode than as a chastisement of its main character Patrick, who clearly has these preconceptions about every relationship he walks into. Early in this episode he’s preparing for a date with Richie, Raul Castillo’s charmer from the previous episode, when he says he maybe just wants a “Mexican fuckbuddy”. Meanwhile Agustin warns Pat that he’s probably “uncut” if he’s a real Mexican. Certainly Pat is venturing out of his comfort zone, which is already defined as something the opposite of racy. He’s already cowered from a Stranger By the Lake moment cruising in the park. He definitely needs to break down his expectations of relationships, and that he already sees Richie as a sexual object does not put him on the right footing for this date, or with the audience necessarily.
Honestly, I like that. I like that Patrick is this pasty-faced, naive character who realizes when he’s being prudish and even a little racist. It makes him human and it makes the writers aware of how flawed he is, but I’m unconsciously worried that the writers will molly-coddle him. I don’t want this journey to itself be patronizing Patrick and spoon-feeding him soft life lessons. From all I can see, he’s had enough of soft in his life. Richie is something different, but not in the way he expects. We get hints of his family from Southern California, Texas and, of course, Mexico, as well as a touch of his religious background. These are interesting character facets, but Patrick is not being a good conduit for the audience.
We want to get to know Richie better, but Patrick seems so anxious that he tries to push him back home, into bed, and just be done with it. It’s not really so excruciating. It’s awkward and stilted, but not without its moments of joy. When Richie and Patrick are in the dance club, we see who they are in that moment. Richie is a very cool beat. Patrick is ecstatic, jumping up and down. Without the imposition of conversation, there is room for honesty. And then Patrick ruins it by rushing into sex, which Richie thankfully stops before it goes too far, saying they’re “looking for different things”. Patrick’s misstep isn’t that he wants something different. It’s that he’s totally unsure of what he wants, and it’s tough to start any relationship on that basis. I’m fairly certain Richie’s story isn’t finished, but Patrick needs to get sex off his list or priorities if he’s going to move forward. Frankly, the show does too.
Of course Pat’s not the only one with fabricated expectations of what his relationships should be like. Agustin heads into this episode on two highs, one being the joy of moving in with cute boyfriend Frank, whose job we better learn before the show does what predictable rom-coms do and dispenses with the season 1 boyfriend. The other is from last week’s sexual escapade which already raises a red flag for their relationship. “What if we don’t agree on what we want to be,” he asked last week. Agustin has preconceptions about his life just like Patrick, but with the self-confidence to not be constantly questioning himself the way Pat does.
So the way I see it, there are two outcomes for Agustin in his current arc. His relationship with Frank cruises into chaos and falls apart, forcing Agustin to reconsider how he goes about relationships with others. Or, and this may actually be a good thing to break from the norm, they stay together and have the same vigorous rises and falls in their relationship as everyone does. Agustin is somebody who could actually learn from settling down, and not obsessing over his RELATIONSHIP (I’m now referring to it in capital letters to emphasize how the show is totally revolving around that aspect of life) means he can actually examine his life outside of that. He does draw the short straw this episode, getting the smallest arc of the three leads, but his nervousness about his identity as an artist is perhaps the most interesting thing about him so far. Everybody likes the most easily wisecracking member of the group, but without any depth they risk becoming caricature.
It doesn’t surprise me at all, however, that Dom had the most substantial arc of the episode, particularly since he’s the only one not looking for sex. I mean, he is the only one who actually has sex, but as his reaction to a more relatable crisis of facing his old flame who, it turns out, is more responsible for Dom’s current state than we initially realized. We don’t know that much about Ethan when we meet him, only that he’s a squeaky-clean, frankly boring real estate agent who drinks refresh tea. In other words, the ultimate tool, so not that much of an improvement from his prior state, which seems to be as a meth addict who Dom lent $8,000 to sober up 10 years ago. Frankly, they may have both been better off if he stayed that way.
Instead Dom ends up the way he started this episode, with nothing but a lot of regret and certainly not the $8000 plus interest that Ethan almost certainly has. If he gains anything, it’s the confidence to realize how meaningless his shitty situation is. Whether he’ll go on from here into another ill-advised relationship or thrive on his own steam is to be seen. Sex is a cliche that all these men are using to alleviate the stress in their lives, but it’s not as fulfilling as actually addressing those issues. With luck Looking can take this to heart as they move forward.
- Again, I love how San Francisco is realized on this show! Last episode showed it as something of a dream. In this one we get a full idea of the city’s landscape when they’re moving Agustin. Crossing the bridge just feels like it’s deliberately working to expand the show’s scope.
- Also on the city’s landscape, I love Patrick’s constant fear of those egregious hills. Surely a fear many San Franciscans reciprocate daily.
- Don’t be ashamed of your Unicorn cock art, Agustin! UNICORNZ IZ FUKKIN MAJIK! (Art by Tony Houst at age 19, proving every great artist goes through a unicorn phase, and it is to be cherished!)
- Again, my estimation of the show rises above the grade I give it. “B” is seen as pretty mediocre in television terms, while in film terms it’s a nice step above average.
- Next week’s Looking hits Saturday to avoid the Super Bowl, but Patrick’s work friend’s statement of unemployment sounds like this episode is going to finally break that sexual ceiling.